Chief justice says SC ‘tried its best’ in case of jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court was not remiss in the case of jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino, who gave birth in government custody and whose infant daughter died months after they were separated, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said.
“We tried our best… and I hope Mrs. Nasino understands also the court and the others. That’s what really happened. There was no intention to delay it. It’s because there are really limitations,” Peralta said in a virtual briefing on Friday.
Nasino, through her mother Marites Asis, sought temporary release citing humanitarian grounds. She and 21 other families of political prisoners filed their petition on April 8, saying they were vulnerable to COVID-19 because of pregnancy, old age, and other health-related reasons.
While court records show that justices arrived at a decision in July—to remand the cases to the lower courts—the SC only announced the ruling in September or five months since the plea was filed.
By September, Nasino had already given birth. A lower court had also ordered her separated from Baby River by then.
SC told local court to act on Nasino plea
Peralta said that when the petitioners were going to the SC to urge the court to rule on their plea, he directed Court Administrator Midas Marquez to refer Asis to the trial court, and Manila court Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali acted on their petition.
Umali however ruled to separate Nasino and Baby River.
“I think the problem there is that they were not satisfied with the resolution of Judge Umali and then they caused the inhibition of Judge Umali,” he added.
Peralta also said he wrote a letter to the executive judge in Manila “because I know how it feels to be a parent,” and instructed the immediate raffle of the case after two judges inhibited.
The Almonte petition and the ‘writ of kalayaan’
The petitioners received a copy of the ruling and the eight separate opinions of the justices on October, when Baby River had already died due to complications of pneumonia, without reuniting with her mother.
The main ruling only consisted of seven pages, but the justices’ separate opinions revealed extensive discussions on whether the ruling that freed former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile applies to them, whether the Nelson Mandela Rules apply to the country, whether there is “wisdom” to keeping detained those accused of link to communists, and other potential relief for Nasino’s baby.
Peralta explained justices have the right to write and submit their own opinions. “They spent a lot of time preparing all these opinions naman. I hope they will understand the Court, that’s all that I can say,” he added.
In his separate opinion, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen introduced a remedy through a proposed Writ of Kalayaan that would be geared toward addressing jail congestion.
Leonen said: “It shall be issued when all the requirements to establish cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment are present” and “provide an order of precedence to bring the occupation of jails to a more humane level.”
Peralta said if Leonen has not yet come up with suggestions on the potential writ of kalayaan, they will organize a committee to study it.
Review of rules on writ of amparo
In the same press conference, Peralta also said they will consider reviewing the 2007 Rules on the Writ of Amparo, which Court Ad Marquez had earlier promised opposition lawmakers.
The writ of amparo is a protection extended to petitioners when threats to their life, liberty and security emanate from the military, police and other state security forces. It covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.
Peralta however admitted that the SC is already working on other rules of the court such as institutionalizing videoconferencing and reviewing Rules on Criminal Procedure and on Summary Procedure.
“There are many administrative matters that we have to attend to like rule-making and so on but we will take into consideration yung suggestion,” the chief justice said.
“It would be better pa if you can write me or those who are interested to have them amended, write me and let us see and then study the matter and then probably tackle them in the deliberations of the committee,” he added.
In September, during House of Representatives’ deliberations on the Judiciary’s budget, Rep. Carlos Zarate (BAYAN Muna party-list) mentioned the case of slain rights worker Zara Alvarez, whose organization Karapatan sought protection from the court against perceived State-sponsored harassment.
Fifteen months from when they first ran to the court for protection, Alvarez was gunned down in a private village in Bacolod City. She was the 13th rights worker of Karapatan killed since the start of the Duterte administration.
“What the ordinary citizens are thinking is to seek the courts, but if the courts can no longer protect them, where will they run?” Zarate said in Filipino then.
Marquez then replied that Chief Justice Peralta will welcome the review of the rules on the writ of amparo.